We saw an interesting story from Shasta County, California. Having seen this issue pop up back when I was a Deputy District Attorney there, I was both amused and pleased to read about this one. Here is an example of the problems with mixing church and state, especially in smaller communities.
Barry Hazle, Jr. reached an agreement for $1.9 million plus with the State of California and Westcare California, Inc., a non-profit drug treatment group, after the state revoked his parole for refusing to submit to the religious nature of the program. The agreement is for over $1.9 million plus.
In 2007, Hazle, like many, was sentenced to a 12-step treatment program at Empire Recovery Center in Redding. The less than ideal drug laws we have in this state and the nation as a whole, often result in drug treatment in lieu of jail. Though treatment over punishment is often the better way to handle some cases, there is the still prevalent problem of a lack of resources. In some places, especially those of a more rural or isolated nature, this means the choices available to a person for treatment are limited. Often the limitations are based purely upon availability and funding. In some communities, however, the limitations can be the nature of the program itself. Those that require a religious component can easily outnumber those that do not. Here, the state sent Hazle to a religious-centric organization.
As an atheist, Hazle refused to acknowledge and release responsibility to a ‘higher power’. Unfortunately, for him, this is a requirement of the program. Based upon this refusal, parole officials revoked his parole and sent him to prison for the over three months.
This, of course, is ridiculous. The idea that the state will give anyone the option of treatment or prison, but only if he will submit to a religious requirement is not only unconstitutional, but defies all logic. There is no evidence that faith-based programs are more effective than non-faith-based programs. Furthermore, the state has no business declaring that a refusal to believe in a higher power constitutes a failure to meet parole conditions. Such a proposal then requires an individual to lie daily, in order to get the benefit of the bargain. Do we really want to encourage addicts to lie to get what they want? It defeats part of the other purposes of rehabilitation programs, namely to get the addict to face the truth about their choices and condition.
When we talk about the violation of civil liberties in the history of our nation, the federal government, long feared to be the big monster, has nothing on the violations done by local and state governments. It is there where our prejudices run wild, often because we live around and near those most likely to share those prejudices or at least those who will not oppose them. In smaller communities, there is often a tendency to marginalize “others” and give no regard to their rights so long as the majority feels comfortable.
Hazle filed suit and won in front of a judge. However, in determining damages, the jury, made up of local folks, decided it was worth nothing. In other words, they thought the violation of his constitutional rights, including a wrongful imprisonment and an attempt at coerced religious conversion, was worth nothing. While disappointing, it was not surprising.
His successful appeal of the jury’s decision led to the settlement. Let us hope this will convince officials and the public to consider finding more resources for the non-religious as well as the religious in addressing rehabilitation.